Facebook and Instagram have lifted their ban on praising or supporting Kyle Rittenhouse and stopped blocking search results for his name following his acquittal last month.
The two apps had declared Mr Rittenhouse’s shootings a “mass murder” and banned his accounts last August after he killed two people and injured one during racial unrest in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
The policy meant that other users were forbidden to praise or support him under the apps’s “dangerous organisations and individuals” rules, which bracketed him alongside terrorist groups and hate leaders, as well as preventing people from being able to search for his name.
But on Wednesday, the apps’s parent company Meta, formerly known as Facebook, confirmed that it had reversed that policy and will now allow Mr Rittenhouse to join Facebook and Instagram again.
It comes after a Wisconsin jury found that Mr Rittenhouse had acted in self defence and cleared him of murder, a verdict condemned by anti-racist activists and lauded by conservatives.
A spokeswoman for Meta said: “After the verdict in Kenosha, we rolled back the restrictions we had in place that limited search results from returning content related to key terms including Kyle Rittenhouse.
“While we will still remove content that celebrates the death of the individuals killed in Kenosha, we will no longer remove content containing praise or support of Rittenhouse.”
Searches for Mr Rittenhouse’s name on Facebook and Instagram on Wednesday indeed turned up numerous results, as first reported by BBC News.
The spokeswoman said it is highly unusual for any person branded by Meta as “dangerous” to be de-designated. She said Mr Rittenhouse will now be allowed to make accounts again, though as of Wednesday he had not done so.
She added that massive public debate about the case will make the new policy hard for Meta to enforce, and said its moderators will prioritise any user reports about potentially rule-breaking posts.
Mr Rittenhouse’s violent confrontation with racial justice protesters on the streets of Kenosha last year ignited immediate partisan rancour, with leftists describing him as a dangerous vigilante and conservatives defending him or hailing him as a role model.
Mr Rittenhouse, then 17 years old, was also embraced by white supremacists and “boogaloo” supporters who hope for a new civil war, with many posts and memes celebrating his actions circulating on Facebook and Instagram despite the ban.
Both apps, which are governed by the same rules, forbid users to praise or support “dangerous” people and organisations, which includes perpetrators of “multiple victim violence” that kill or seriously injure three or more people.
In the days after the shooting, Meta's then head of counter-terrorism Brian Fishman said that it had applied its “standard practice” for mass shootings after investigating the incident.
“We've had too many tragedies like those in Kenosha,” he said. “Companies like Facebook owe it to everyone to closely examine the influence of online content on such violence — and take action to stop. it.”
Conservatives blasted the policy. “Big Tech think they're above the law,” said Republican senator and longtime Facebook critic Josh Hawley. “They made up their minds on this case months ago, sought to deny Kyle Rittenhouse the presumption of innocence and censored those who disagreed.”
The editorial board of the New York Post, which suffered its own ban when Facebook and Twitter temporarily blocked its story about Joe Biden's son Hunter Biden last year, wrote on 25 November that Facebook “did its best to ensure [Mr Rittenhouse] would be found guilty in the court of public opinion”.
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